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Giro Teams: Discovery Channel
By Staff
Date: 5/6/2005
Giro Teams: Discovery Channel

By Jan Janssens

Thereís an American team riding the Giro this year. Thatís right, you heard me!! Donít worry, I was as frightened as you are when the news first reached my ears, double-checking through my window if maybe hell had frozen over, but everything seemed - and seems - to be quite all right. If I had any pet pigs I would have scanned them for any newfound flying abilities, too. But no, we can thank the ProTour for this unusual, yet not unpleasant happening. Discovery Channel will be at the Giro, with nothing less than a former Giro winner in their line-up! And no Lance Armstrong. But I figured Iíd just drop his name anyway for some extra attentionÖ.if it works for OLN, itíll work for me!

That former Giro winner I mentioned is of course Paolo Savoldelli, Il Falco to the tifosi. Now, it must be said that the Giro he won was a bit of a freak-Giro, with favourites being disqualified for failing doping tests (Garzelli, Simoni), for almost pushing a Colombian into a ravine (Casagrande), abandoning (Pantani) or suffering from the mother of all breakdowns (Evans).

But that doesnít change the fact that you still have to actually win the race, so you wonít hear me say that Paolo doesnít deserve his win. But generally speaking, when the toughest mountains present themselves Savoldelli will be struggling to keep up with the best. But he has other skills, such as his great time-trialling ability, and of course his famed descending abilities. There arenít 2 riders in the peloton who can keep up with this man when weíre talking kamikaze descending! You donít want to be in Paoloís wifeís place when you see him diving like a stone.

In Romandie, Savoldelli rode an excellent prologue but got trashed badly by Cunego in the mountains. Itís hard to tell if this is any indication of his form or just a slow and easy preparation, but itís safe to say that our Italian friend wasnít dancing on the Discovery dinner table either. Anyway, this gracious rider is a joy to watch, and a lock for a top 10 place, maybe top 5. But donít expect him to win this Giro.

Looking at the rest of the team, Savoldelli hasnít exactly been blessed with the top notch of the Discovery mountain goats, but thatís probably hardly necessary in a team that, normally speaking, isnít supposed to control the race anyway. But letís keep it positive, because the young Tom Danielson, aka The Great White American Hope, is a solid climber with a good time trial in his legs! Thatís the kind of stuff grand tour players are made of, and Danielson certainly shows promise. And thereís no question about his form either, after his fine win in the Tour de Georgia a few weeks ago. It seems that Tom found a good environment to work in at Discovery, after his somewhat unfortunate Italian adventure last year (I said it before and Iíll say it again, the Italian Sprinter-syndrome). For all his promise he has yet to prove himself on the highest level, and this is his chance. An outsider for a good placing in the final ranking, but letís not burden him with overly unrealistic expectations either.

Other men that are known to hold their own while climbing are comeback-kid Jason McCartney and Ukrainian Volodymyr Bileka. McCartney is more of an all-rounder really, but his overall victory in the mountains competition in Georgia last year tells us that he should be more than capable of assisting Savoldelli and Danielson when itís necessary. Few careers are as eventful as McCartneyís, and there were a lot of question marks put next to Discoveryís choice to pick him up last year. This is the nature-loverís chance to prove all his critics wrong. Our Eastern-European buddy - spare me from typing his first name again - Bileka is, technically speaking, Popovychí first lieutenant, but heís here without his race leader and best friend. A highly underrated rider, that rarely gets to show his skills because of his constant work for Popovych. Very all-round, and capable of a lot more than his 50th and 58th place at the previous two Giri would have you think.

Say hi to the not one, but two Canadians heading for Italy, Ryder Hesjedal and Michael Barry. Is it a plan for Canadian world dominance? The first step in taking over the USA? Probably, but well, we all saw it coming. And they laughed when they saw me wearing my tinfoil hat, hah! Take that Johan Bruyneel, whoís the Canadiansí puppet now?!

But seriously, these guys made the team for some very valid reasons. The still very young Hesjedal was awesome in most of the Northern classics and had a more than decent run at the Tour de Romandie, finishing only a few places behind his team leader Savoldelli. It shouldnít come as a surprise that he can climb, as a former mountainbiker, but this guy also had an excellent prologue and an average time-trial at Romandie. One to watch. Michael Barry is already somewhat of a journeyman on this squad. His real strength isnít stage racing though, something heís proven over and over again in the last few years with some nice places in the tougher classics, and a great 7th place in the Worlds held in his home country. A man that isnít afraid of getting his hands (and bike) dirty for his team-mates, a valuable member of any team.

Another one of those guys thatís actually more of a one-day racer is Antonio Cruz, whom you can always count on if the roads are hard and cobbled. As a former American Crit. Champion Cruz knows all about fast and furious races, and thatís generally what the flat Giro stages are all about in the last 30 kilometres. A good second-line sprinter, but one could wonder what thatís worth in the ProTour points system. On to two of the more exotic riders on the Discovery squad then!

As a Luxembourgian and a Czech theyíre not the most common nationalities in the peloton, the former because of Luxembourgís size (less than half a million inhabitants), the latter because the Czech Republic hardly has a cycling tradition. Iím talking about Benoit Joachim and Pavel Padrnos, of course. These two riders are both strong domestiques whoíve been at US Postal/Discovery Channel for quite some time, and even if theyíre not the certainties for the Tour anymore that they used to be, theyíre still vastly appreciated.

Two times national champion of Luxembourg Joachim lived his dream last year, wearing the golden Vuelta leaderís jersey for a day or two, and showing that even selfless domestiques can catch a break from time to time. Padrnos is a huge man with a even bigger diesel engine, the sort of rider anyone would like to hide from the wind behind. Not a very flashy rider, but capable of riding long distances at a high pace, obviously making him an excellent time-triallist. Just donít ask him to accelerate or climb.

You could say that the choice of riders in this Giro squad reflects Discovery Channelís expectations: to do well, nothing more, nothing less. Actually, this team would have been great for a team time-trial, but this is - ironically - the only grand tour that doesnít organize one. Not the best team Savoldelli could hope for in terms of mountain support, but very capable in averagely high mountains and flat stages. Expect them to be active in breaks, hoping that the Fassa-train will miscalculate for once; and keep an eye out for Danielson and Hesjedalís performances.

Discovery Channel for the Giro

Paolo Savoldelli (Ita)
Tom Danielson (Usa)
Jason McCartney (Usa)
Antonio Cruz (Usa)
Pavel Padrnos (Cze)
Benoit Joachim (Lux)
Michael Barry (Can)
Ryder Hesjedal (Can)
Volodymyr Bileka (Ukr)

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